Coalition fights for swans’ release
By Erin Kelly
Local animal protection and environmental groups have formed a coalition to protest Ottawa’s Royal Swans being kept locked in a facility being dubbed "Swantanamo Bay."
Made up of members from the Ontario Wildlife Coalition, the Canadian Biodiversity Institute, Animal Alliance of Canada and the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, the Ottawa Royal Swan Coalition says the issue has become an embarrassment for the city.
The city’s 12 Royal Swans, descendents of the birds given to Ottawa by Queen Elizabeth II in 1967, have been kept locked up since last fall as a precaution of avian flu. This year marked the first time in decades that the swans have not graced the water of the Rideau River.
Chris Roberts, a member of the Ontario Wildlife Coalition, took pictures of the swans’ winter home, currently being used to house them over the summer, and says she was appalled at what she saw there.
"When you think of swans, you think of dignity and beauty and this facility is as far from that as can be," explained Ms. Roberts. "We immediately want them to clean it up, it is disgusting and the building is old and decrepit. You would never know that something is living in there unless you went and saw one of their (the swans’) heads poking through the window."
Although the media and general public have not been privy to the conditions of "Swantanamo Bay," Ms. Roberts was able to get onto the grounds of the facility. Once there, Ms. Roberts said she saw unkempt pens and dirty pools of water. Two of the four outdoor pens were completely full of shoulder-high weeds, she said, leaving only two pens for the 12 swans.
Members of the Royal Swan coalition were in disbelief over a memo sent to councillors by Steve Kanellakos, deputy city manager, which stated "other aviculture permit holders are envious of the facility."
Contrary to Mr. Kanellakos’ statement, the coalition says the facility is as far from the envy of aviculturists as is possible.
"It (the facility) is actually quite sad and embarrassing, it is a black mark on the city," stated Ms. Roberts.
Baseline Coun. Rick Chiarelli was recently on vacation in Florida and while there spoke with someone who deals with migratory birds.
"You know, down there (Florida) there are thousands of birds everywhere, even swans," said Coun. Chiarelli. "When I spoke with this person who deals with migratory birds, they had heard about our Ottawa situation and they think we are wackos."
Elsewhere in Canada, Halifax, Stratford and London have all released their swans and the coalition claims these cities see Ottawa’s decision to keep their swans in as "silly."
Coun. Chiarelli agreed with the coalition’s views of the swan sanctuary, saying it was never meant to be a year-round facility.
"Swantanamo Bay was never meant to be a summer swan ranch. It was designed to keep the birds as warm as possible," said the councillor.
Donna DuBreuil, of the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, said the situation with Ottawa’s Royal Swans is "symptomatic and symbolic of a larger issue."
"This is something much broader than swans, we (the coalition) saw them as being used as pawns," explained Ms. DuBreuil. "These animals are being locked up in bureaucracy and people are aghast. People are seeing that staff is just full of bureaucracy. It really does resonate with people.
"There is just a lot of fear mongering with animal well-being and that should not be."
Ms. DuBreuil said the threat of avian flu is never going to go away and raises the question as to whether the swans will ever be free to roam the Rideau River again.
At the time The News EMC went to press, the coalition was hoping to raise the issue of the Royal Swans’ future at the Aug. 23 city council meeting. The group has asked Coun. Chiarelli to raise the motion, who had not yet decided whether he would or not prior to our newspaper being printed.
Ms. DuBreuil says the group acknowledges that it is too late to have the swans released for the remainder of the season, but they do feel that action needs to be taken for next year.
The Ottawa Royal Swan Coalition planned to request to council that the city assume responsibility of the situation and make immediate plans to improve the Leitrim Rd. facility. If there is a decision to hold the swans in the enclosure beyond next spring, the group is also requesting that then the swans be transferred to another city where they can be released.
"Whether the situation is right or wrong is not the issue, we just want the city to own up," explained Ms. DuBreuil.